07:00PM, Wednesday 31 March 2021
Slough boss Jon Underwood has said he’d be surprised if the National League could follow through with its plan to fine step 2 level clubs, if those teams banded together to challenge it legally.
Underwood has no doubt the 16 step 2 level clubs who refused to play matches while waiting on the outcome of a vote to continue with or cancel the season had ‘just cause’ to do so.
On Friday afternoon the National League released a statement confirming a £2,000 fine and suspended two-point deduction for every game that clubs refused to play, amounting to an £8,000 fine for the Rebels.
The club has said it will appeal. From a safety and financial point of view Underwood doesn’t think the league’s case would stand up if challenged in court, however, he's wary of the club having to fork out for legal costs when it is already strapped for cash.
“I get that a league has to have rules, and a club shouldn’t be able to just flout those rules,” he said. “Otherwise, there would be anarchy. But we were in unprecedented and unusual times.
“We still are in a global pandemic and clubs have been forced into a position where they had to fend for themselves. That’s how we felt. We were left to make our own decisions about what was right for our clubs.
“The suspended points penalty is based on clubs doing this again next season, as if it’s the sort of thing clubs do every season. We’re not going to do it again and we wouldn’t unless, and I think the two words that are key to this in their own rules, are just cause.
“Well, I don’t know what is more of a just cause than the situation we all find ourselves in. Hopefully we’ll never find ourselves in this situation again.
“We feel there’s just cause and if clubs went down the legal route, and this became a legal issue, I would be really surprised if the league could follow through with those fines, because there is just cause, clubs were being asked to financially pay out to continue playing when a lot of us knew the season couldn’t carry on and we were right on that. It was declared null and void.”
He added: “There’s costs involved in going down a legal route. I don’t think we would want to be paying out for legal fees. We don’t want to being paying out £8,000 in fines or for legal fees. Clubs are struggling to survive, and our own league are forcing this situation on us. They should be looking after and protecting their clubs and they seem to be doing the exact opposite.
“The club will appeal. Whether they do that individually or in line with other clubs I’m not sure.
“I’ve read that some clubs were considering joining forces and standing together on this, which I think they should, but that’s just my opinion. There were 16 clubs, and they should stand up together to say this isn’t right.
“I’d be surprised if any club just took that fine on the chin to be honest, because I think all of those clubs took the action that they did with a lot of thought. It’s not an easy thing to do to refuse to play, it goes against everything that all of us are about, so no clubs took that decision lightly.
“I would be surprised if clubs just rolled over and paid it to be honest.”
The Rebels resisted the urge to continue playing primarily on safety grounds, believing it wasn’t safe for players and club staff to mix at training and on match days – during the peak of the second wave – when an adequate testing protocol wasn’t in place.
“We were very strong on that,” added Underwood.
“At the time we were refusing to play the league came out and said they’d put testing in place. This was the middle of February, and they didn’t, and then the null and void happened. If they were going to put a testing protocol in place it means that they needed one. It wasn’t right that they didn’t have one and we’d been talking to them about this since December.
“We were being asked to put our players into situations where there wasn’t the correct protocol in place. So, there are financial and safety arguments that are just cause in my opinion.”
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